“How do I describe the last two years of my life? Holy. Shit.”
Life is pretty damn swell for Caleb Shomo right now. Swell, and fucking crazy. Up front and centre as singer and commander-in-chief of Beartooth – a band that has captured the hearts and minds of outcasts around the world in a manner not seen since Andy Biersack decided to pick up a microphone and a can of hairspray – he and his crew are riding a tsunami-sized wave of fanaticism and critical acclaim that has been rolling for more than two years now. Kicked off by their decent 2013 debut EP, Sick, and compounded by a rabidly received full-length, Disgusting, the following year, the hype machine currently carrying the Ohio natives around the world remains in fifth gear, and shows little sign of slowing down any time soon. This month, they’re retuning to the UK for the seventh time.
“Dude, I did not expect things to be going as fast as they are,” laughs the frontman. “We take weeks off here and there, but other than that we’re literally just going all the time – and it’s awesome! I don’t really care about if we’re ‘gaining success’ or whether people ‘know who I am’ or whatever, but I’m not naive; we wouldn’t be touring if people weren’t interested. So yeah, we’re doing well for ourselves.”
That statement’s backed up by the reactions the quintet have been getting at their live shows since Disgusting landed. For the uninitiated, Beartooth gigs fall somewhere between the lines of a thousand-strong group therapy session and a full-blown riot, and since we last caught up with Caleb at the tail-end of 2014, they’ve trekked across the US on ecstatically received Warped showings, supported Slipknot in the States, and are currently buddying up with Bring Me The Horizon across mainland Europe, meaning that they’ve literally been playing to hundreds of thousands. Given the small army they were already carrying behind them heading into this year, it bodes well for the future.
“Dude, I’m just happy that we get to do what we do, you know?” offers Caleb – seemingly hellbent on being the most modest man in music – of Beartooth’s impressive ascent. “Hopefully, people care because they know it’s honest music. There’s no bullshit behind it, no ‘ifs’, ‘whens’ and ‘buts’; Disgusting is exactly what I was feeling on the inside when I wrote those songs. If people feel what I was feeling at that time, that sucks in a way, because so much of the material on that record is so dark, and that’s what people are relating to, but it’s a reality. And it helped me deal with it.”
Filled with big, catchy riffs and choruses and the kind of raw, undiluted emotion that made Korn’s debut such a sharp and shocking kick to metal’s bloated, swaggering nuts, Disgusting has evidently struck a chord with a hell of a lot of young people, which perhaps makes it all the more surprising that it nearly didn’t come into being.
Three years ago, at just 19 years old, Caleb had quit rising metalcore mob Attack Attack! under a cloud of depression and anxiety – a battle he told Hammer last year he’ll “always be dealing with”, and that influenced the pure desperation sewn through Disgusting’s impassioned lyrics (‘When I tell you I’ll be fine/I still want you by my side/Please just try to read between the lines’ he cries on The Lines). While he posted new song I Have A Problem under the Beartooth moniker soon after leaving Attack Attack!, alongside the promise that he’d be playing shows at some point, the declaration that he’d be working first and foremost on simply writing and producing music suggested he would be stepping away from the spotlight for quite some time.
“Originally, I thought I was just gonna sit at home and produce records full-time,” he insists. “I thought I was done with touring, dude. I basically thought that stuff I put up was just gonna be some music that I wrote – it wasn’t gonna be, ‘Here’s the new project!’ or whatever. It was just, ‘Here’s some stuff, maybe I’ll do some shows here and there, do some touring two or three weeks out of the year if I get the itch to go back out on the road’, but other than that I just thought I was gonna be a music producer. I was happy to just be at home.”
Apparently on a one-man mission to cram in as many “dudes” as he can into every other sentence, Caleb is a disarmingly chilled individual, happy to talk at length about the journey that’s lead to this maddening yet satisfying point in his life, and evidently used to opening up about his feelings. Given the environment he found himself in post-Attack Attack!, he’s gone through a fair few extremes in getting there.
“I’d spend almost all day in my studio,” he reveals of the months he was in hiding. “I’d usually wake up in the afternoon, and just be in my studio all night. I’d either write or be bored surfing YouTube before I went back to writing. I just shut myself off.”
The results of that time alone – producing for the likes of fellow Ohioans My Ticket Home, New York metallic hardcore crew Sylar and Escape The Fate, on top of the early Beartooth material – were fruitful, but that’s still a lot of solitary confinement for someone used to touring the world with a band he’d been in since he was 15…
“Ha ha, yeah,” he agrees with a sigh. “It definitely got a little overwhelming.”
If that was overwhelming, what came next must have blown his young mind (and it is still scarily young; his mature outlook and relaxed demeanour belie the fact that, despite having steered two prominent bands across four albums, he’s still only 22 years old). Since the Sick EP saw release, Caleb has hardly had time to pick his nose. Endless demand for Beartooth shows around the world has made them one of the hottest properties in heavy music today, steering them into some gruelling schedules, including two Warped treks in the US. Being thrown into that kind of environment after months alone must have been daunting.
“It really was a shock,” he agrees. “I started touring when I was 15 years old, and I was constantly on the road with very little time off. But there comes a point where a band gets big enough where you literally can’t be on the road all the time, when you’re playing to people that have seen you a million times. So it slows down a bit, and that’s where I was [when I left Attack Attack!]. Beartooth, literally out of the gate, it was just, whoosh, we’re on tour all the time. In fact, in two weeks, we’re leaving for two months straight again!”
And so, with a (surprise, surprise) fast-selling UK tour coming up, Caleb prepares to wrap up the most insane 24 months of his offensively productive young life. Chances are, things will get a lot crazier for him and his band before they calm down, with a new Beartooth album tentatively planned for the first half of next year. For now, though, and like everything else it seems, he’s taking it all in his stride.
For a man who has shouldered the responsibilities of two promising bands and been through Hell and back in the process, seeing Caleb Shomo enjoying life is, well, pretty damn swell.
“I had no expectations going into this,” he concludes flatly, “and that’s one of the things that’s great about it; I can just ride the wave, and anything that comes to fruition is a blessing. I’m not the kinda person to try and go out there and change the world. I’m still at the point where I’m trying to focus on myself being happy. If other people can relate to that and connect, and that helps them deal with their own lives, then that’s something I’m super stoked about.”
It looks like Beartooth will be making people stoked for a long time yet.
*DISGUSTING* IS OUT NOW VIA RED BULL. BEARTOOTH TOUR THE UK THIS MONTH
LONG IN THE TOOTH
Caleb’s whirlwind career so far…
Aged 15, Caleb joins Attack Attack! (who are rubbish) on keyboards and rhythm guitar. The band also feature a certain Austin Carlile of future Of Mice & Men fame.
Caleb graduates to lead vocal duties for the band’s second, self-titled album, following the departure of Nick Barham, who replaced Austin Carlile, who had left a year earlier. You following?
After the release of third album This Means War, Caleb departs Attack Attack!, citing “horrible clinical depression”. He announces Beartooth and pledges to concentrate on writing and producing for other bands.
As it turns out, the Beartooth stuff Caleb writes is so good he decides to release it as an EP called Sick. Hooray!
The hype around the EP prompts Caleb to commit to a full album, resulting in the ace Disgusting. Vocal cords around the world are shredded doing the ‘WHOA’s on One More.
Having amassed a proper Beartooth lineup, Caleb tops off two packed years of touring with a stint on Warped, support slots with Slipknot and BMTH, and a packed-out UK run. He’s probably earned himself a rest now. Probably.